Sunday, September 11, 2005

Jim Edgar plays “Political Interruptus,” says Andy Shaw

Chicago Tribune columnist and blogger Eric Zorn [See here] thinks the pundits are assessing the Edgar prospects of Jim Edgar’s jump into the Guv race incorrectly:

Where the pundits are wrong (and I think Edgar knows they're wrong) is where they say Edgar will sail to victory over Blagojevich if he chooses to run. He'll face a nasty primary and a costly, brutal general election campaign that will be tighter than any of these polls now indicate.

However, when Zorn generalizes as to “pundits,” I think he means mainstream media (“MSM”) pundits. And, although there are exceptions, as with any generalization, in large part Zorn is correct as to MSM pundits.

The MSM pundits talk about or imply kind of a cakewalk for Jim Edgar, certainly in the primary—with a good chance of a sound beating by Governor Edgar of Governor Blagojevich in the general election. The MSM pundits reach this conclusion because they don't know or care much about Republicans other than “moderate establishment” Republicans such as Edgar and Topinka. Indeed, the Chicago Tribune’s editorial page term of art for their ideal candidate, whatever the race, is “pragmatic moderate conservative,” and they identify Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and Judy Baar Topinka as exemplifying that double oxymoron.

The MSM journalists like to believe that the Republican party, at large, is pretty much the way they are—moderate [even if the MSM are not generally Republican], but that somehow the “Christian Right,” or the “Hard Right,” as they like to put it, has taken over the primaries and intimidate “true Republicans,” from turning out. Of course, by moderate, the journalists mean pro-choice or pro abortion rights, pro gay rights and pro gun control. And, if they had to boil it down to one issue they would say moderate equals pro abortion rights. So, how do they explain almost three-fourths of the Republican Gubernatorial Primary voters casting a vote for strong Pro-Lifers Jim Ryan or Pat O’Malley, as opposed to pro-choice Corinne Wood in 2002?

One, they would argue Corinne Wood ran a poor campaign in 2002. That is, they blame the messenger, not the message. But, many journalists and operatives would disagree and don’t think the former Lt. Gov. ran a bad campaign, at all.

Two, they would argue voters look at a broader range of issues and Jim Ryan was the “centrist,’ in that three-some. True, but social/cultural issues do count and you had a pretty good division between Ryan and O’Malley on the one hand and Wood, on the other, on the social/cultural issues.

Three, they come back to intimidation. Republican moderates are intimidated, or perhaps, simply turned off by the conservative stridency-- so they just stay home. But, somehow, this won’t happen when Edgar arrives on the scene. This is not a very persuasive argument. Moderates who are party activists, by definition, should be able to take a punch or two.

Four, Edgar had yet another answer for me at his press conference this week. When I asked him if it wasn’t the case that the Republican Party base [as reflected in primary voting] is much more conservative than when he last ran in 1994, he said it depends on “who turns out.” So, Jim Edgar thinks his personal appeal will change the composition of the Republican Primary electorate. And, he may be right.

So, explaining the 2002 gubernatorial primary voting is an intellectual problem the MSM journalists have. They don’t seem to want to grapple with the idea that the Republican Party of 2005, even in Illinois, is quite different from the Republican Party that re-nominated Edgar in 1994, notwithstanding his generally high polling data over the last seven years [I say 7 years because as ABC-7 News’ political editor Andy Shaw said Friday night on WTTW’s “Chicago Week in Review,” Jim Edgar has played “political interruptus,” with us three times, which Shaw said reminded him of some of his old high school girlfriends, who wouldn’t let him “get past second or third base.”].

Polling data when you are not running, or only hypothetically running, is a little different from the real polls—how they actually vote, after you have been trading shots and throwing mud, ideas and arguments back and forth with your opponents for six months. The MSM might argue, as did Edgar, that his personality or personal appeal, improves the turnout of moderates in the Primary and that Edgar “connects,” with all voters, even with social conservatives. Perhaps, but it is far from obvious that these arguments carry the day for Edgar.

As to the general election, the MSM would like to believe that the state in general is offended by Blago's arguable lack of substance [and ethics], as opposed to Edgar who actually thinks and speaks about the substantive public policy issues that the MSM say they would prefer to write about. So, the MSM think Edgar wins in a cakewalk. Good over bad-- another Hollywood, Fairy Tale ending.

But, see [what I wrote 5 weeks ago]:
[Of course, I was a bit off in predicting that Edgar would announce his decision on Aug. 18]:

...3. Jim Edgar [20-1 that he runs and gets the Party nomination] [Downstate and Colorado]. Very popular Ex-Governor, 1991-1998. Will turn 59, next month, but old for his years. Angioplasty and …It is assumed by mainstream media that his entry would clear the primary field. But, they do not realize it would probably take an armed militia to get Oberweis and his supporter Jack Roeser out of the primary. And, even Sen. Rauschenberger might decide to stay in the primary. If two conservatives stay in, Edgar almost surely wins the primary. Downsides for Edgar: He last won in '94. The political landscape has changed considerably. The Republican Primary could have significant speed bumps for Edgar, if only one conservative stays in, especially with a Republican primary base that is much more socially conservative than it was in 1994, and …Then there is that pesky, old MSI scandal. And, Edgar may not be the guy to argue against Blago fee increases or against Democratic Party Tax Swaps, with Edgar having adopted that Dawn Clark Netsch proposal after arguing against it

Well, the smart money thinks [and I agree] that it is now closer to 60-40 that the former Governor does get into the race. Yes, Jim Edgar, Eric Zorn and I know that it is not a cakewalk. Not in the primary and not in the general. He wants to respect his wife and his other family members and he will. He will take a hard look at what the doctors say after all the tests are done and written up. He will ask himself if he can live a, relaxed 8 to 6 campaign day, if that’s what the docs say he needs to do. He will ask himself if has enough money to live comfortably for the remainder of his life, if his income declines by about 400K/year for the next four years.

Edgar will ask himself if he can live with a social and fiscal conservative [and a reformer] like State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger or a social conservative and maybe fiscal conservative [and not a reformer] like State Sen. Kirk Dillard as his Lt. Gov. and likely successor, and if that kind of a ticket might reduce the tension of a Republican Primary considerably and insure that the base was sufficiently motivated for the general, without turning off the so-called moderate Republicans and Independents so much that it becomes-- advantage Blago.

Yes, Edgar will continue to think about these things. It was clear from the way he handled his press conference this week that he wasn’t just taking a stroll in Pioneer Court. He knew which issues he wanted to discuss and which ones he didn’t. He knew the message he wanted to put out and he helped write the headlines. And, he charmed most of the media and enjoyed doing so.

His critics said the press conference was called because Jim Edgar was annoyed that Hurricane Katrina had taken Edgar off the front page. But, all of the above says that is not the case.

Edgar knows it is now 60-40. I know it’s now 60-40. And, so do his critics. And, that’s what scares them.
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